NB: Amendment: this piece was written prior to the Simon Pegg’s Twitter furore. Given the content of this article, Pegg’s position and subsequent SM targeting add to the context. Consider it also when reading.
There’s an old saying. It goes: Never meet your heroes. The raison d’tere of such a statement is that of cushioning. If you meet your hero he/she may well let you down. He/she might be angered by the on scene harassment by a fan spilling into her personal life. There’s no shortage of Alec Guinness’ polite ‘f#@k off’s’ or Bill Shatner’s effusive outbursts on the unwitting fan boy eager to show their appreciation – to serve as examples in nerdism, that meeting the person you’ve admired for so long might be a personalised, idealised vision that’s miles off the painful reality.
A let down.
A bad idea.
An intrusion from which you may bear ill?
In the era of social media, notably the mega interactivity hub Twitter, those sort of interactions seem inevitable. But from an adage that reports specifically on the experience of the fawner not the fawned, it’s increasingly the fans who are letting down their heroes and not the other way about.
In the past few weeks it’s been impossible to isolate single examples of internet bogie discourse, flame wars, creative tiffs or spats that took aim at a specific creator or fandom ‘hero’ if you like and then fired with intent. There were, and are, too many to count and many, it would seem, are brought about at the behest of the creator’s personally aired opinions, reflected albeit more subtly through their work.
Unlike with other public mediums, the social media audience aren’t left with the cooling off period to reflect, the creators aren’t left with that reflective period to retract. The response is immediate, some would say devastating, when armies of followers are provided the instant gratification of responding to a creator/hero.
Carriage wit is now the norm in online discourse. When you say the wrong thing online, ill expressed in a short txt segment, you don’t always have the room to correct it. In an impersonal medium limited to 140 characters it’s nigh on impossible to express oneself in anything less than a black and white condensation of actual stance, and so animosities are followed and prejudices solidified.
The reality for some creators and their fans is the death of an artistic/commercial relationship, in a bitter exchange of poorly expressed ideas or opinions.
A recent example was Dare Devil and Princess Leia scribe Mark Waid. The writer and fan favourite behind the likes of DC’s Iconic Kingdom Come was subject to an ongoing assault when he took a stand on #GamerGate, with the radical elements from both sides of the debate lining up to take a pop at him. The reality is that no matter who you are, anyone can be the subject of baleful attacks based on personal opinions or creative works. You don’t have to be high profile, though being in the higher spheres of influence definitely makes for a bigger target.
Perhaps the most high profile of fan boy heroes to fall on his sword for the pleasure of conversing with the masses is Joss Whedon. Heralded as a pop culture sage and feminist proponent of extraordinary renown, it was painful to watch him savaged on the social network following the release of Age of Ultron, the latest bookend of Marvel’s phase 2 film series.
The controversy surrounded Black Widow’s infertility and motherhood yearnings, along with her damselling in the film’s third act it seemed enough to send some commentators into a froth. The man who delivered Buffy’s modern Joan Of Arc to the masses was also the man who relegated Scarlett Johannson’s high kicking spy to the subs bench for five minutes in AoU’s final act and found her guilty of wanting kids in a make-believe world of stoic masculinity.
Forgiveness was not forthcoming, not least from Whedon’s former supporters surrounding #GamerGate, following his solid back of the movements de facto hate figure Anita Sarkeesian. Said former fans fell on him like Jackals vomiting tsunami scale hate levels that drove Whedon to quit Twitter. This caused some commentators (Patton Oswalt and co) to cry ‘SJW’ and claim the creator had been the victim of the increasingly radical left wing femme warriors. Notably anti-feminist columnist Milo Yiannopoulos dubbed the director Feminism’s battered housewife.
Whedon’s own take was that liberalism is eating itself alive, and he needed a quiet space to think away from all the noise of Twitter. Regardless of suspected motive or Whedon’s latter absolutions, the fact remains; fans are attacking their heroes in droves, through a medium of infinite access. There no longer exists the filter of the media nor the plausible deniability of word of mouth.
Once a personally verifiable tweet has been perpetrated online, regardless of the seeming insignificance, the sacred space between fans and their heroes no longer exists. There is nowhere to hide from the snapping jaws of vocal malcontents. Fans, it would seem, are killing the gods who made them believers to begin with. Poisoning their own fan experience through the meshing of personal opinions from creators with the investment in their creative output.
You might enjoy Mark Waid’s Dare Devil, but will you still be reading it after sampling his politics? For some fans it’s a ‘no’.
Current climate dictates that with the agency of the online creative presence we are entering an era where the work no longer speaks for itself. Rather the politics and the opinions generated from both ends of the spectrum, producer and consumer, are diluting the process and crippling the outcome. It’s a creative crunch, and nobody’s a winner.
Before Twitter, Whedon was an untainted cultural hero. He was undoubtedly, at one point, the hero of the same ‘haters’ who sent him packing. So retrospectively, could we consider it a bad thing that, through the wonders of infinite online interaction, we got to meet Joss one to one? Some of us were disappointed when he wouldn’t dance to our exact tune. His opinions and his politics differed. Suddenly we got to know him and judged his material through a different lens. How he personally made us feel. When AoU was released some felt personally let down by a man whose politics seemed at odds, and came to unravel in his onscreen work. He didn’t live up. But how could he?
Critics point to the ‘Age of Entitlement’ as one of the prime detractors in any sort of creative endeavour, and serving up creators to their detractors on a personal level, to a fandom who feel they ‘know better’ is a recipe for unified disappointment. This was never better underlined than when massive online fan revolts demanded an alternative ending to Mass Effect 3 from creators Bioware, and then got it. Nothing henceforth could be created without suffering the kind of reductive scrutiny that takes creative vision out of the equation in favour of mass appeasement. Creativity as mandated by the fan boy jack boot.
Others note that heavy is the Damoclean blade, hung high above the head of any creator willing to manoeuvre Twitter. Great are the rewards for the en vogue talent. But not so great as the backlash for those fallen foul of ill favour.
But in a world where ‘the echo chamber effect’ is an actual term amongst the online journo, denoting the public’s desire to click through specific links only to have their opinions echo back at them, it should be considered dangerous that should the fandom heroes opinions and politics not match up, then its these stances that will be judged rather than the value of their work.
While not everyone may agree with Alan Moore’s amalgam beliefs of mysticism meets science for example, it’s impossible to deny the impact he’s had on the progression of pop culture. Similarly Orson Scott Card may be an infamous homophobe, but his Ender series filled with Utopian ideals should not necessarily be measured by the man’s politics. You don’t have to agree with these people to appreciate their work. But if they were on social platforms such as Twitter, it’s a fair bet that you just might.
The problem with Fandom heroes and creators on social networks is that they are opening themselves to a hypersensitive critiquing based on the banality of 140 character statements and not the standard by which they should be measured: their work.
Whedon’s work might never have been so harshly received had his politics not been so widely considered. Fans are getting to virtually meet their heroes en masse, and while this can at times be the perfect synthesis of creative endeavour and commercially receptive fan base, the modern era of opinion over output is becoming a prevalent idea.
Fans are now able to meet their heroes. But the question is: should these creators endeavour to meet their fans? Like all modern gods of nerd consumerism, living to every fan’s ideal standard is an impossible task. Likewise, fans can’t possibly expect to look at a creator’s material, measure it against said creator and not find them wanting.
The message in all of this: Fans are killing their own heroes through a direct involvement and investment that has never existed before. Fandom heroes are alienating fans by stooping to meet them and finding themselves judged outside of their most important expression: their work.
Step back from the precipice of opinion. Step back before your fan base feeds you to the lions.
Disengage while you still can, because absence makes the heart grow fonder. While access simply poisons it.
George Takei might disagree. But not everybody’s George Takei.